How to Pick the Best Tabletop RPG For New Players

Updated: May 28


In the last couple of years tabletop Role Playing Games have been blowing up in popularity, and online tabletop RPGs especially since the Coronavirus hit. But how to pick the best tabletop RPG to play when there are so many to choose from? I’ve put together a list of some of the most popular TTRPGs with details to help you choose the best one for you or your group! There are games like Dungeons & Dragons, and games which are nothing like D&D, so there should be something for everyone :)


Note: this is not meant to be a comprehensive list of TTRPGS!


There are some great game systems work with any and all genres, and then there are the systems that specialize in one genre. In this post I'll cover the following:


Medieval Fantasy | Horror / Gothic | Sci Fi | Any Genre


Medieval Fantasy

Magic and castles and adventure. Medieval fantasy has been the most popular genre since TTRPGs got their start, with Dungeons and Dragons dominating the field. But there are other games like D&D you may enjoy even more!


Dungeon World

Learning Curve: Easy

Official Website


Dungeon World is often described as “what I thought D&D was before I played D&D.” It’s a system focused on collaborative world building and storytelling, meaning the Game Master isn’t the only one with control over the game world! Dungeon World has a rules-lite system that’s easily modified, making it easy for the Players and GM to improvise with more freedom than in systems with more restrictive rules. This also means the GM has to do a lot less prep work!


Dungeon World is the best tabletop RPG for collaborative world building and storytelling in the Medieval Fantasy genre.


Want to play Dungeon World online?

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Dungeon Crawl Classics

Learning Curve: Easy

Official Website


When you start a new game of Dungeon Crawl Classics each Player gets FOUR characters, and then they start to die, one by one. Any survivors are promoted to level one. This should give you a good understanding of the system. It’s fast paced and brutal, just as 1974 D&D intended. Of course, as you level up you’ll get tougher! It’s the classic experience of dungeon crawling, finding secret doors, triggering traps, and being eaten by monsters, but with a modern take on the rules. The Dungeon Crawl Classics world is a strange and dangerous place where Players will likely end up dead, corrupted, or insane. What are you waiting for??


Dungeon Crawl Classics is the best tabletop RPG for brutal old school dungeon crawls in the Medieval Fantasy genre.


Want to play Dungeon Crawl Classics online?

Click here to find a game on Zero Session



Dungeons & Dragons 5e

Learning Curve: Moderate

Official Website


Dungeons and Dragons is a classic that has endured and evolved through the years, and is still the clear leader in the TTRPG market. D&D 5th Edition offers players a system that is relatively easy to use for new players with the guidance of an experienced Game Master. It's a flexible game system that excels in the fantasy setting. Players choose from a set list of 12+ classes, each with exciting class features including spellcasting, combat, shape shiftiness, the works! Combat is rule-based and tactical but still has some room for improvisation.


There is a lot of great content out there for D&D 5e, from the awesome starter set mini-campaign The Lost Mines of Phandelver, to campaign modules like my personal favorite, The Curse of Strahd.


Dungeons and Dragons is the best tabletop RPG for players who want a good balance between ease of play and number crunching in the Medieval Fantasy genre.


Want to play Dungeons & Dragons 5e online?

Click here to find a game on Zero Session



Pathfinder

Learning Curve: Hard

Official Website


Pathfinder is a complex game, but it's worth the steep learning curve because it offers a deep system of character customization. Pathfinder is an evolution of D&D 3.5e that almost 10% of all online Tabletop RPG players have played. Combat is complex and tactical and can take a while to complete, but can be very rewarding! Players choose to play one of 40+ classes and are able to further customize their class with feats as they progress. There are more rules than D&D 5e, but you can do a lot more!


Pathfinder is the best tabletop RPG for Players who want to dive into a complex game system featuring tactical combat and truly unique character classes in the Medieval Fantasy genre.


Want to play Pathfinder online?

[Coming soon to Zero Session!]



Horror / Gothic

Are you tired of games like D&D? If you want to indulge in the strange and horrific these are two game systems that won’t steer you wrong. In Call of Cthulhu Players investigate and are driven insane by monsters, and in World of Darkness Players play as one of the monsters!


Call of Cthulhu

Learning Curve: Moderate

Official Website


Like many of my fellow nerds, I grew up reading H. P. Lovecraft’s weird tales of cosmic horror, so Call of Cthulhu is close to my heart. Call of Cthulhu takes ordinary people and puts them in extraordinary situations, situations that change them forever. Some stones are better left unturned, but there are those who must know. Call of Cthulhu is a game of investigation into cosmic truths that ought not be known.


Players take the role of investigators with fragile mortal minds and even more fragile bodies. Combat hurts! Taking a few hits can end your investigative career permanently, and being exposed to monsters and forbidden knowledge can drive your character insane. It’s a lot of fun!


There are a lot of great modules and game supplements out there, including settings in the 1890s, 1920s, modern times, even the future!


Call of Cthulhu is the best tabletop RPG for investigative gameplay and insanity mechanics in the Horror / Gothic genre.


Want to play Call of Cthulhu online?

Click here to find a game on Zero Session



World of Darkness

Learning Curve: Moderate

Official Website


World of Darkness settings range from modern to historic, but all are set in a dark version of the world where the stories about monsters are true. And you play as one of them. World of Darkness has as much gritty noir and suspense as it does actual horror. Player characters are flawed creatures of the night who inhabit a shadowy version of the real world, rife with faction conflicts and politics. This is a game system more focused on drama and storytelling than on action and rule technicalities. If a rule gets in the way, the GM can just change it!


World of Darkness comes in different versions, such as Vampire the Masquerade, Werewolf the Apocalypse and many more. You can even play as a mummy.


World of Darkness is the best tabletop RPG for playing as an anti-hero “monster” in the Horror / Gothic genre.


Want to play World of Darkness online?

[Coming soon to Zero Session!]



Sci Fi

I recommend the Shadowrun and Star Wars TTRPG systems because they each have an incredibly interesting and exciting setting. Their rule systems are built to support their settings and it shows. These two systems do exactly what they set out to do!


Shadowrun

Learning Curve: Hard

Official Website


Shadowrun is a dystopian cyberpunk re-imagining of the world, with fantasy races and magic thrown into the mix. Perfect for deckers, mages, and street samurai alike. In this intensely interesting version of the future, draconian MegaCorporations rule the world. Players take the role of mercenaries called Shadowrunners who pull jobs ranging from beating up gangers for protection money, to breaking into a MegaCorp’s HQ and stealing a prototype security program. Shadowrun features complex and realistic gameplay, at the cost of a steep learning curve. But an experienced Game Master can make it a lot smoother!


Shadowrun is the best tabletop RPG for complex character customization in a unique Sci-fi / Fantasy setting


Want to play Shadowrun online?

[Coming soon to Zero Session!]



Star Wars TTRPG

Learning Curve: Moderate

Official Website


Who hasn’t dreamed of being able to harness the force and move things around with your mind? Well now’s your chance! The Star Wars TTRPG system lets Players play as smugglers, bounty hunters, rebel soldiers, and, of course, Jedi! It has a unique Narrative Dice System that ensures every dice roll results in something interesting, keeping the story moving. The gameplay is fast paced and the combat feels cinematic, as does the storytelling. Character customization is open-ended, allowing Players to personalize their character. There are great beginner sets available, broken down by the sort of characters you’d like to play


Star Wars is the best tabletop RPG for exploring the Star Wars universe


Want to play Star Wars TTRPG online?

[Coming soon to Zero Session!]



Game Systems For Any Genre

While some game systems have the setting and story built right into the rules, others like Fate and Savage Worlds are built to easily work with any genre or setting.


Fate

Learning Curve: Easy

Official Website


Fate offers a flexible system that allows the GM to say “yes” to the Players more often than not. It’s focused on character development and hard choices, choices which drive the narrative. Players have the option to force a success where there was failure, but they must ask themselves what they are willing to give up to win.

In Fate, Players are actually rewarded for bad things happening to their characters (in a round-about way). This really helps build narrative depth, as Players in other game systems will tend to do everything they can to keep their Player Character out of harm's way.


There are plenty of Fate modules available, and in every genre you might want to play. There are even different versions of the rules you can choose from. The ultimate custom storytelling experience!


Fate is the best tabletop RPG for satisfying character-based storytelling that isn’t restricted to one genre.


Want to play Fate online?

Click here to find a game on Zero Session



Savage Worlds

Learning Curve: Moderate

Official Website


Savage Worlds makes Players feel like “pulp” action heroes (think Indiana Jones or John Wayne). Players and important NPCs are “Wildcards” while everyone else in the world is an “Extra.” Guess who can get more done. With its trademark fast-paced combat and gameplay, Savage Worlds games have an action/adventure cinematic feel.


The dice system is one of my personal favorites out of all the tabletop RPGs I’ve played. For one thing you get to use your FULL dice set. Yes, you will be rolling all of them all the time (except the d20, interestingly enough). Secondly, your dice rolls can “explode,” making the game unpredictable and “savage.” Character’s aren’t restricted to a certain “class,” and character creation and progression is easy and allows for deep customization.


Like Fate, Savage Worlds has a lot of different settings available, including medieval fantasy, the weird wild west, sci-fi space times, and the golden age of piracy.


Savage Worlds is the best tabletop RPG for fast paced, action-oriented gameplay that isn’t restricted to one genre.


Want to play Savage Worlds online?

Click here to find a game on Zero Session

Thanks for reading, and I hope this guide was helpful. Let me know what you think of my recommendations in the comments below!


Trevor Scott,

Zero Session


Short Games | Campaigns | Custom Games | Classes | Join as a GM


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